Sporting KC’s MLS player salaries for 2024, and what they tell us about the future

Ever wonder how Sporting Kansas City stacks up against the rest of Major League Soccer when it comes to player salaries?

Wonder no more.

While MLS isn’t so forthcoming about terms of player contracts, the MLS Players Association is. The union releases a league-wide salary guide twice a year once the transfer windows have closed in the spring and summer.

The MLSPA released some numbers for 2024 late this week, shining light on how Sporting KC has built its current roster, how the club stacks up against other MLS teams when it comes to overall spending, and what sort of flexibility KC might have during the next player-transfer windows.

Striker Alan Pulido is Sporting KC’s highest-paid player, with his new deal through the 2026 season netting him $3.6 million. He is the 15th-highest-paid player in the league.

Miami’s Lionel Messi (about $20.5 million) and Sergio Busquets (~$8.8 million), Toronto’s Lorenzo Insigne (~$15.4 million), Chicago’s Xherdan Shaqiri (~$8.1 million) and Austin’s Sebastian Driussi (~$6.7 million) round out the top five earners in MLS right now.

Sporting KC ranks 18th in the league in total salary, at $15,874,516. Inter Miami, unsurprisingly, spends the most on talent — $41,679,126. (Messi costs more than the rest of Miami’s roster combined.)

Sporting KC’s rival to the east, St. Louis City SC, has the least costly roster in the league, at $12,015,851. The league average is $17,890,720.

Sporting KC spends more than 75% of its salary budget on midfielders and forwards, with 50% given to forwards. On average, MLS teams are spending 38.08% of their respective budgets on attackers.

Only four teams allot more of their salary to forwards than Sporting KC: Toronto FC, Orlando City SC, FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew.

Aside from Pulido, four Sporting KC players earn at least $1 million annually: winger Daniel Salloi, forward and captain Johnny Russell and midfielders Erik Thommy and Nemanja Radoja.

Seven players on the Sporting KC roster earn more than the Designated Player threshold of $683,750, which is the maximum charge against the salary cap in MLS.

Salary figures represent a player’s base earnings plus signing bonuses, divided by the number of years covered in the contract.

Some numbers fluctuate as teams try to manipulate the salary cap. For example, Russell signed a contract extension ahead of the 2022 season. In 2022 he made $2 million; in 2023 he made $1 million.

While the contract numbers might seem to indicate certain players received year-over-year raises, that wouldn’t be the case unless a particular player had an option picked up or signed a new deal to begin the 2024 season.

So about the next window ...

Sporting KC has some big decisions to make in the coming weeks.

The club could free up a designated player spot and give itself a boost with a splashy summer signing. A new in-season rule change — set to be implemented before the summer transfer window — opens a door to other possibilities, too.

Under the current (soon-to-be former) rule, teams were allowed no more than three designated players and up to three U-22 slots, depending on how much the three designated players make.

The new rules remove the cap on how much designated players can be paid in order to keep three U-22 slots open. No longer is there a cap on what DPs can earn.

The league has also added a choice: Teams can roster three designated players and three U-22 initiative players, or they can opt for just two designated players and four U-22 initiative players plus an extra $2 million in allocation money.

Allocation money can be used to buy down a player’s charge against the salary cap, enabling Sporting KC to roster multiple players who earn more than the designated player threshold. Sporting KC is already doing that, with seven players presently making more than the DP threshold.

Salloi and Radoja’s cap charges can be bought down with allocation money, should Sporting KC wish to add another designated player this summer. Salloi’s salary would be cheaper to buy down ... and more advantageous relative to the salary cap.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said recently that the club is evaluating all of its options carefully ahead of the summer window.

“We’re just trying to make sure, with all the different targets that we have, what might be the best solution for us to take advantage of,” Vermes said. “Not just over this next window coming up, but the next two windows.”